By Lisa Diehl, Kansas Area communications director, and Kathryn Witte, Nebraska Conference communications director
On June 9, Kansas Area Bishop Scott Jones and Nebraska Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson simultaneously announced the results of a vote to combine the current three United Methodist conferences in Kansas and Nebraska into a new conference Jan. 1, 2014.
|Susan Brown and Rev. Kenton Van count the results of the ballots cast by the Kansas East Conference on the one-conference motion. (photo by Britt Bradley)|
The Kansas West Conference cast 550 votes, with 409 yes votes, 140 no votes and 1 abstention.
The Kansas East Conference cast 478 votes, with 415 yes votes, 62 no votes and 1 abstention.
The Nebraska Conference cast 528 votes, with 370 yes votes and 158 no votes.
The motion was approved by at least 70 percent in all three conferences—Kansas West was 74.4 percent in favor, Kansas East was 86.8 percent in favor and Nebraska was 70 percent in favor.
The three conferences will become one new conference Jan. 1, 2014.
“I’m excited, and there is every reason to be hopeful. Our conferences are committed to positive change," Sherer-Simpson said.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Jones said. “I’m excited. And there’s a part of me that’s just scared that somehow we’ve got to do this and grab a hold of the opportunity we’ve been given.”
Kansas West voted May 24. Ballots were sealed and counted following the votes in the other two conferences. Kansas East voted June 7 and Nebraska voted June 8. All the ballots were counted the evening of June 8. Results were announced at the Kansas East and Nebraska annual conference sessions and webcast live across the two states.
In the next few weeks, the extended cabinets of the three conferences along with the Kansas East Leadership Team, Kansas West Focus Team and the Nebraska Common Table will meet to plan the next steps to bring a plan for the new conference to the three annual-conference sessions in May and June 2013.
“There’s a lot of discussion that needs to go on here,” Jones said. “Change is hard. We know that.”
"I am hopeful this shift from three to one offers us as United Methodists in the Great Plains Area a time to creatively realign our life together,” said Sherer-Simpson. “We build on 156 years of faithful witness – a foundation that each conference rightly cherishes. We look at the mission context in the 21st century as an opportunity for each local church to reach out and make disciples of Jesus Christ whom God can use to transform the world.”
The three conferences will not vote on the plan for the new conference next spring but will have opportunity to provide feedback on the plan, which will be voted upon at the uniting conference. Jones said all three conferences will have an opportunity to celebrate the many vibrant and important ministries in which they have been engaged.
On Aug. 23 and 24, 2013, there will be a uniting conference at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kan. Because the conferences will still be separate legal entities, each will vote separately on the plan.
“We will stay there until there’s three separate votes to adopt a single one-conference plan,” Jones said.
Dream teams, technical teams, the transition team and conference leadership will be working on the one-conference plan over the next several months.
“God’s going to be in this. The next 18 months is going to be a special time,” Jones said. “We need everybody’s prayers. We have to figure out how to make this work as well as possible.”
This vote came about as a result of a recommendation from the Nebraska-Kansas Episcopal Area Transition Team comprised of representatives from all three conferences. The transition team was formed when the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church implemented a plan to comply with legislation from the General Conference of the church to reduce the number of bishops in the jurisdiction by one. The announcement to have one bishop serve the episcopal areas of Nebraska and Kansas was made in September 2009.